The late Spring Bank Holiday weekend saw Crich Tramway Village transformed into a sort of ‘Crich-on-Sea’ for the now annual ‘Beside the Seaside’ event. Although most of the attractions, such as the ‘beach’ area and end of pier style entertainment are predominantly aimed at families, tram enthusiasts were also catered for with the launch into service of Blackpool ‘Boat’ car 236 on the Sunday following a major overhaul. As this tram had not carried passengers since August 2004, and last ran at Crich way back in 1985, its return to service was always going to be a big draw for the many fans of Blackpool’s streamlined trams and both members of the British Trams Online team visited on separate days to welcome the car into its new home.
Sunday 3rd June (Andrew Waddington reports)
The event started in dismal fashion with absolutely appalling weather on Sunday. However, a few dozen hardy enthusiasts were on site early, as the attraction opened its gates at the earlier than usual time of 9:00am. This was to allow people to enjoy some extra photo opportunities before most visitors arrived, which seemed to be very well received and will hopefully be repeated at future events. Although the weather was not exactly suited to outdoor photography, the volunteers who had arrived early were determined to put on a good show and set up what was probably the most impressive line-up of Blackpool trams ever staged at the Museum. A mouth-watering selection of eight Blackpool cars were posed on the depot fan, consisting of: Fleetwood ‘Rack’ 2, Standard 40, Toastrack 166, Pantograph car 167, Open Boat 236, Brush Railcoach 630, Jubilee car 762 and the Electric Locomotive. These were joined by former Blackpool visitors Southampton 45 (which was stored in Marton Depot before the Museum at Crich was established) and Cardiff 131, the latter fresh from its seaside holiday over the winter months. This gave a superb ten-car line-up, and so the tone for the day was set!
The six operational Blackpool trams then left the depot yard to form a procession for 10:30am, which ran from Cliffside to the street. The trams ran in order of age, led by the 1898 built ‘Rack’ 2, which was followed by Standard 40 of 1926, the electric loco and Toastrack 166, both built in 1927, Boat 236 of 1934 and finally Brush car 630, dating from 1937 and heavily modernised in 1995. After posing for further photo opportunities, cars 2, 40 and 630 all entered service whilst 236 operated a few empty demonstration runs along the street for the benefit of photographers. The loco was called back to the depot yard for shunting duties whilst 166 also returned to the depot – which was totally understandable due to the heavy rain of the morning. Its place in service was taken by Leeds 399, whilst the recently repainted ‘Access Tram’, Berlin 223 006-4 was also in use. Appropriately enough, this car was one-man operated, giving another nod to the history of the Blackpool system. A preserved Blackpool PD3 bus (which seems to have become part of the furniture at Crich lately!) was parked outside the Red Lion and added to the seaside atmosphere of the day.
Just after 11:30am, the tram service briefly halted as visitors gathered in the still heavy rain for the launch of Blackpool Boat 236 at Stephenson Place. After a short speech, current Tramway Museum Society President Chris Thornburn welcomed Daphne Luff – who is of course the daughter of Walter Luff, the revolutionary manager of Blackpool’s transport who oversaw the introduction of the town’s most iconic tramcars, including the Boat cars. The duo then officially launched 236 at her new home in appropriate fashion, by breaking a giant stick of Blackpool rock over the coupling box! This was followed by a special inaugural journey for representatives of the Tramcar Sponsorship Organisation and the Fylde Tramway Society, both of whom have made significant financial contributions towards its restoration. As 236 set off on her maiden voyage, she was given a musical accompaniment by a brass band, who were sheltering alongside the George Stephenson Workshop. After a full return journey, including a brief pause at Glory Mine for yet more photos, the car returned to Town End where it entered service for a short time before heading back to the depot fan to be posed alongside Pantograph car 167.
There was another surprise in store, however. After shunting Jubilee car 762 and a defective Glasgow 812 into the workshop, and bringing out 167 for the second time that day, the Blackpool electric loco then made its way to Town End where it too duly entered passenger service! Members of the public are hardly ever allowed to ride on this bizarre tram, so the opportunity of a cab ride was greatly appreciated and allowed several enthusiasts the chance to cross this tram off their ‘to do’ lists! The loco’s crew were particularly accommodating and allowed passengers to get off to take photos en route, which added even further to what was already a great novelty. At around 2:00pm, the Boat set off from the depot yard carrying members of the groups who had sponsored its overhaul, but who had not been able to ride on its first journey, for a second ceremonial trip and the tram ended up following ‘Rack’ 2 and the loco to create another excellent line-up.
Despite hopes that the weather would improve as the day progressed, the torrential rain continued throughout the day. With this in mind it would have been perfectly understandable if 236 had been run in early after completing its official duties, but to the credit of its dedicated crew, the car remained in service until the end of the day. It was also a welcome surprise that ‘Rack’ 2 stayed out until the bitter end, although the final departure of the day was worked by the more suitable Brush car 630, with its modern saloon heaters being greatly appreciated.
The horrendous weather on this day meant that 236’s launch was unlikely to rival that of fellow Blackpool tram 630 at Crich just 22 days earlier, but the organisers nonetheless did their best to ensure that everyone who had braved the weather was rewarded with a superb day of events. Indeed, the only advertised event for enthusiasts which was called off was the planned appearance of Blackpool Standard 49 on the depot fan; seeing as this tram had been withdrawn back in 1992 due to a leaking roof, this was probably a wise move and no-one seemed to mind. I would suggest that, with Blackpool 166 wisely staying inside for most of the day, it would have been nice to replace it in service with Metropolitan 331 to provide a comparison with the centre-entrance Blackpool streamliners. This would certainly have been a more appropriate choice than Leeds 399, but other than this very minor point, there were no complaints at all to be heard regarding the event. Several little touches, such as bunting on 236 to celebrate both its launch day and Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, helped to make the day extra special and it was again pleasing to see the efforts made to make visiting enthusiasts feel welcome, such as allowing some visitors who asked to travel on 166 to have a short ride on the car during the morning parade. Let’s just hope that the next tram launch at Crich – the debut of London 159 in July – will be blessed with better weather!
Monday 4th June (Gareth Prior reports)
And so to the second day of the event which was met with much better weather, which was just as well as I had decided to embark on a 17 hour day just for a few tram rides in the Derbyshire countryside!
Although the second day of Beside the Seaside didn’t have any events specifically aimed at the enthusiast there was still plenty to keep enthusiasts occupied especially as it provided the first opportunity to travel on 236 in the dry since its return to Crich. Alongside 236 fellow Blackpool trams Toastrack 166 and Brush 630 were in service with Southampton 45 and Berlin 223 006-4 also in service at the start of the day. Then shortly after lunch a fourth Blackpool tram entered service with Standard 40 joining in the fun. If before the day had begun you had asked me to select four trams to be in service I would have chosen 45, 166, 236 and 630 so it was well worth the visit!
As well as the excitement of the trams there was plenty to keep families occupied with a beach by the side of the Red Lion, visiting birds and entertainment in the shape of George Formby (he must be a secret tram enthusiast with his activities in the last couple of weeks!), a magician and Skegness’ own Jolly Fisherman was in attendance (and even enjoyed a few tram rides!)
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